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Global elections watch: All eyes on U.S. race

Who would foreigners like to see at the helm of the world's superpower – a Republican or Democrat?

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Pakistan's parliamentary election will produce a new prime minister, but still leave the strongman Pervez Musharraf as president, backed by the Army. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has been the nation's leader since 1980 and was just nominated again as candidate for the ruling party in March's presidential election.

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In Russia, presidential elections will likely yield a different president – but the same leader. "A new president will not deviate from [Vladmir] Putin's line in foreign or domestic policy," says Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Centre in Moscow. Mr. Putin's anointed successor, Dmitri Medvedev, is "a weak, possibly temporary figure who will hold power on behalf of Putin," he adds.

Will 2008 be a year of more or less democratic freedoms?

Depending on how the Russian elections play out, Putin may well be on the verge of joining a growing band of leaders who consider themselves "president for life." Some call it "ballot-box botox." and note how appealing it has become.

The number of countries where elections are likely to do little to change the leadership include Egypt, Syria, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. "We have a global phenomenon now of postdemocratic states where you have presidents for life and they are not fascist or communist or dictators in the 20th-century sense of the word. But they are far from being democracies in the European or North American sense," says Mr. MacShane in London.

This will be a major challenge for the next US president, he says: How to bolster its alliances with democratic states so as to arrest the attack on universal values such as respect for opposition parties, free press, and race and gender rights.

"I still think that the object of America's enemies is to divide the US from Europe in as many different ways as possible and I hope that doesn't happen because I don't want to live in a world in which the Chinese or Russian or Saudi or [Venezuela's Hugo] Chávez vision of democracy is the one that gets the upper hand," says MacShane.

Peter Ford in Beijing; Fred Weir in Moscow; Sam Dagher in Baghdad; Danna Harman in Johannesburg, South Africa; and Sara Miller Llana in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Presidential election calendar

Georgia - Jan. 5

Lebanon - Jan. 12

Serbia - Jan. 20

Czech Republic - Feb. 8

Cyprus - Feb. 17

Armenia - Feb. 19

Russia - March 2

Taiwan - March 22

Zimbabwe - March

Paraguay - April 20

Dominican Republic - May 16

Iceland -June 28

Somaliland - Aug. 31

Azerbaijan - Oct. 15

Palau - Nov. 4

United States - Nov. 4

Maldives - November

Ghana - December

Sources: IFES ELection guide, news wire services